Southern Baptists Say no to women pastors

Wednesday, June 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Southern Baptist Convention approved a revised statement of faith on Wednesday that says women should not serve as pastors.

``While men and women are gifted ... the office of pastor is limited to men by Scripture,'' said the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Memphis, Tenn., chairman of the drafting committee.

The vote was by a show of hands so there was no formal count.

``I'm very sad,'' said the Rev. Martha Phillips, interim pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., where Vice President Al Gore is a member.

``Women ministers are not going to have a place in Southern Baptist life anymore,'' she said in a telephone interview from Arlington. ``I think more churches will leave the convention.''

The Faith and Message statement does not address whether women should be ordained; it addresses only their role as pastors, who lead congregations. About 100 of the the 1,600 or so Southern Baptist clergywomen are leading congregations. The denomination has 15.9 million members and 41,000 local congregations.

However, the statement is not binding on individual Southern Baptists, and local congregations would remain free to ordain women and hire them as pastors. Phillips said she hopes to remain pastor of her church.

Women attending a meeting of pastors' wives Tuesday afternoon overwhelmingly supported the statement.

``I don't feel like it's biblical for a woman to be a pastor,'' said Melissa Folds, a pastor's wife from Trenton, Fla.

Margaret Davis, a pastor's wife from Newport News, Va., was a rare voice of dissent: ``I believe if God calls you to pastor, it doesn't matter if you're a man or woman. My husband disagrees.''

The women pastor issue comes on top of a hotly disputed 1998 amendment to the 1963 version of the document, stating that ``a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.'' That was the last straw for an estimated dozen congregations that quit the denomination.

Approval of the men-only clergy clause will probably drive out other congregations, said the Rev. Daniel Vestal of Atlanta, coordinator for a group of 2,000 theologically moderate congregations. Convention officials strongly disagree.

Other changes in the church statement underscore that the Bible is ``totally true'' and God is ``all-powerful and all-knowing,'' and insist that ``there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.''

It also urges Christians to oppose racism and reject abortion and homosexuality.

Outside the convention, 100 or so gay and lesbian protesters marched with signs that said ``Stop Spiritual Violence.'' More than two dozen demonstrators were arrested, accused of illegal assembly.

The first to be arrested was the Rev. Ed Harris, 65, a retired Southern Baptist pastor who acknowledged his homosexuality in the 1990s.

``The Southern Baptists were my guide into my spiritual life, and I'm very grateful ... but the church is causing too much emotional abuse to gay people,'' he said earlier. ``We're not sick and we're not sinful.''

On Tuesday, the first day of the group's annual convention, the group elected Dr. James G. Merritt, 47, pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga., as president. He promised to make overseas missions, reaching young people and ``soul winning'' his priorities.

``I will lift high the banner of truth found in God's inerrant word,'' said Merritt, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a trustee of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

``We're one of the few denominations to stand strong in the sharp winds of political correctness and to call sin, sin,'' Merritt said.

Merritt said he agrees that only men are called to be pastors.

Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, said Merritt was not part of the conservative leadership's takeover of the convention in 1979.

``He will have to prove himself to the aging fundamentalist leadership, (and) my suspicion is that he will aggressively push a right-wing political agenda,'' Parham said.